SISTERS TalkBack! “The Housewife’s Lament”


As the SISTERS’ team was getting ready to print the October issue I caught a glimpse of one of my favourite writers’, Zainab bint Younus, article, “Forgotten Heroines: The Housewife’s Lament.” In my usual state of feeling overwhelmed about my own housework, I quickly lapped up the article hoping for some pearls of wisdom, a boost of inspiration or maybe even some sort of camaraderie in similarly fatigued arms. What I got was mad. I spewed my irritation at my co-editors who told me to “write a response!”

A few days later, Zainab bint Younus separately pointed out some other rhetoric in the September issue that she felt needed critique and correction. An ‘Ah-ha Moment’ happened and we realised that instead of quietly dismissing these bothersome things, we needed to open up this space – “Talk Back” – in which both readers and writers can discuss things published in SISTERS Magazine that they feel uncomfortable about or are downright wrong in some way. So let’s begin this feature with how I felt about the “The Housewife’s Lament” followed by Zainab’s response.

[Brooke Benoit]: When I got to the portion of your article about Fatima (radhiAllahu ‘anha) where you quote the following hadith, I was disappointed and then upset that you used the story in the same way I so commonly see it used in other articles, advices, blogs and so on.

Here is a translation of the hadith:

“Narrated By Ali : Fatima went to the Prophet complaining about the bad effect of the stone hand-mill on her hand. She heard that the Prophet had received a few slave girls. But (when she came there) she did not find him, so she mentioned her problem to ‘Aisha. When the Prophet came, ‘Aisha informed him about that. ‘Ali added, “So the Prophet came to us when we had gone to bed. We wanted to get up (on his arrival) but he said, ‘Stay where you are.” Then he came and sat between me and her and I felt the coldness of his feet on my abdomen. He said, “Shall I direct you to something better than what you have requested? When you go to bed say ‘subhan Allah’ thirty-three times, ‘alhamdulillah’ thirty three times and ‘Allahu akbar’ thirty four times, for that is better for you than a servant.” (Bukhari)

In “The Housewife’s Lament” you say that “… the Muslims had won a battle and, as a result, had captured several prisoners and other spoils of war,” you then go on to describe Fatima (radhiAllahu ‘anha) as asking for a “maidservant” to provide her with some domestic relief. This is how I commonly see this hadith used to dissuade women from asking their husbands to hire domestic help when actually that is not what Fatima (radhiAllahu ‘anha) was asking for.

Just as in the translation above, “slave” and“servant” are used interchangeably (as they were nearly the same during the time of the Prophet (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)) even though they have very different meanings to us. She was asking for a slave, to own another human being who would – under kind treatment or not – work in Fatima’s home without a choice. That is something quite different from hiring someone and I think a much, much more important point than whether or not women are being lackadaisical with their approach to getting their own housework done.

I agree with you, of course, that Fatima (radhiAllahu ‘anha) is an excellent example (if not The Example) of how a woman can earn her blessings via caring for her family, but I think a larger point to this particular hadith is overlooked. As an example to the Ummah (all of the Muslims) the Prophet (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), who was actively pushing for Muslims to manumit slaves, did not want his own daughter to hypocritically go against his activism. He did not want her to have a slave and oppress another human being for her own benefit. Patience is better than that kind of shortcut.

Something I worry about is the way this hadith is often used to support the Super Muslimah role – to make women feel like they are being whiny and unappreciative about how much work they have to do and how much help we do have (via modern appliances and other conveniences). But, in my experience, I don’t know any of these spoiled women we hear about who have a servant for each child and do nothing but watch serials in between trips to the mall and salon. I’m sure these women exist, but I don’t know any personally and I don’t think they are the average SISTERS reader.
Nearly all of the women I know earn an income in addition to caring for their home and balancing those responsibilities is a real burden on them and their marriages.

I think the average SISTERS reader is more likely to be someone who is already doing too much and feels guilty that she can’t do more and be like the respectfully endearing Fatima (radhiAllahu ‘anha). I’m worried that while you may have meant to make true housewives feel better about their roles, which can be painfully monotonous and demanding, I think this common misrepresentation of this hadith contributes to inappropriate and damaging guilt. The message is that Fatima (radhiAllahu ‘anha) of all people could have had a little help around the house, but she chose to help her husband save some dirhams instead and drudged on by herself – but that’s not entirely true. Sure, he would have had to feed a slave, but he would not have been paying wages. I really see this hadith being about not oppressing people more than being about humbly accepting household drudgery.

[Zainab bint Younus]: First of all, I’ve got to say that I love the idea of Talk Back! Hearing feedback and constructive criticism is great for any writer who is desperate to know what their readers are thinking. I love this opportunity to be able to discuss anything that my readers find disappointing, irritating or flat out terrible.

With regards to The Housewife’s Lament, it’s part of my series titled “Forgotten Heroines”, which aims to re-examine the lives of the sahabiyyaat and women of Islamic history through a different lens: one which is directly relatable and applicable to Muslim women in every situation of life. My first few articles have dealt with very dramatic themes so far – coming of age, women pioneers, true love and (my favourite) how a villainess became a heroine.

My own life is far from dramatic and, one day when I was struggling to write my next FH article, I thought about how I didn’t feel like my life matched up to the standards of the exciting women I’d written about so far. These women were all very inspiring, yes, but what about women like me – housebound mothers who, quite frankly, don’t have the luxury of pioneering anything or saving the world (yet)? I thought about which sahabiyyah best fit this role, as most of my reading and research has currently been focused on women who performed great feats and found the story of Fatima (radhiAllahu ‘anha).
To be honest, I hadn’t bothered re-reading her story for a long time because it wasn’t as exciting as the others. And that’s when I had my aha! moment. Out of the four women promised Jannah (Asiyah, queen of Egypt; Maryam bint ‘Imran; Khadijah bint Khuwaylid and Fatimah bint Muhammad), only Fatimah’s adult life was, shall we say, unremarkable.

This was what really inspired me to write about Fatimah – the feeling of kinship with a woman who was surrounded by other women whose lives were, in comparison, full of derring-do. Thus, my usage of the commonly quoted hadith was to show that her life was as monotonous as that of the average housewife and that it was not shameful for her to feel sick of it all or ask for help. The fact that she took her father’s advice and resorted to tasbeeh instead of domestic help is merely an illustration of the type of inner strength (which is what I intended to be the focus) that caused her to be one of those who were guaranteed Jannah – what I personally found to be inspirational.

I also understand and agree with your frustration over how this particular hadith is often used to make women feel guilty or ashamed of themselves. My own raging feminist spirit loathes such tired and reinforced interpretations of ahadith. My intent in quoting this hadith was completely unrelated. Though, as I now re-read my article, I can see where I should have used stronger language to focus on my main point; that one doesn’t have to be a world-famous academic or infamous revolutionary in order to be considered strong or worthy in the Sight of Allah.

I found your take on the hadith to be extremely interesting and certainly a valid one. I appreciate you bringing it to my notice, as I’d never thought of it that way before (and I love learning about the deeper dimensions of ahadith and their meanings)! You never know, it could wind up featuring in another FH article in the future, without the typical interpretation attached to it!

Read the original article that inspired the talk back in SISTERS’ October issue!

Brooke Benoit has been working from home for nearly 15 years and recently took her own advice about outsourcing by hiring someone to cook a hot, delicious meal for her family several times a week.

Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a young woman who finds constant inspiration in the lives of the sahabiyyat and other great women in Islamic history. She hopes that every Muslimah is able to
identify with the struggles of these inspirational women and follow in their footsteps to become a part of a new generation of powerful Muslim women. She blogs at http://www.thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com.

This article appears in the March 2014 issue of SISTERS Magazine, the magazine for fabulous Muslim women

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SISTERS Reads: Normal Calm by Hend Hegazi

Normal calm imageSince I did not receive a back cover or any other information about Normal Calm before reading it, I was very surprised when the main character, Amina, was raped, and especially near the beginning of the novel before any momentum to her story had built up. Normal Calm is the story of how rape impacted Amina and, to a slight degree, her family’s lives. Though Muslims are not immune to the statistical average of one in three or one in four women being sexually assaulted in her lifetime, this is a topic seldom touched upon in the greater Muslim community, so I am glad to see the author, Hend Hegazi, take the subject on.

The rape itself is not graphically depicted. Amina deals with it in a fairly pragmatic way, deciding to go straight into a group therapy programme so that she can get the support that she needs to finish her university studies. Amina reveals her ordeal to her close friends, her family – and then what to do about any potential spouses?

Though I can understand how a rape survivor can technically be concerned no longer a virgin due to having her hymen torn, this story made me consider how grossly unfair it is to condemn a person this way. Amina did not consent to losing her virginity, yet in the eyes of many a woman in Amina’s circumstance is simply seen as no longer a virgin and therefore no longer marriage material. This creates a slippery slope for Amina: should she compromise her own integrity for people who essentially already have questionable values? The virginity issue is the only issue ever addressed with concerns to marriage, which (perhaps naively) surprised me. I found it deeply upsetting, though likely realistic, that so much emphasis was placed on Amina’s ‘loss of virginity’ rather than her well-being. Rape has long term, lasting effects on survivors and, while perhaps not everyone has the potential to be a partner to someone who has experienced this kind of trauma, that is not addressed by concerned parties. One potential husband says, “I have no way of knowing how many other men you’ve been with”, as if Amina’s rape was a possible gateway to promiscuous behaviour.

As a sexual abuse survivor, reading Amina’s mother’s reaction was very difficult for me. You can hope that your family will support you through hardships, especially those inflicted on you by someone else, but you just never know how they will respond and in some cases the survivor ends up having to be a support system for those who should be doing the comforting! Interestingly, one of Amina’s strongest supporters is her non-Muslim best friend. I found this character, Kayla, to be a great inclusion in the story, and especially liked the way Hend depicted Amina’s da’wah towards her friend.

I am so glad that Hend wrote this book and hope if offers some solace and insight to its readers. There is an exclusive SISTERS excerpt of Normal Calm published on page 98 of this issue. The full novel is sold through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

 ~~~

Brooke Benoit is an editor for SISTERS magazine, a sometimes visual art maker, a fairly radical unschooling mama to six and a contributor to the recently released anthology Dear Sister: Letters From Survivors of Sexual Violence

This review originally appeared in issue #54 of SISTERS Magazine– the magazine for fabulous Muslim women

Mothering Mondays: Maybe It’s A Convert Thing or How Brooke Got Her Sparkle Back

Turqcarn
Carnelian, turquoise, fine and sterling silver charmed bracelet.

Have you heard the one about the convert who accepted a recited surah for her marriage? Or a promise of hajj or a complete set of Sahih Bukhari? If you know me, then you know how disinclined I am to make generalizations, however in this instance it is only converts to Islam who I know waive decent mahrs or accept token 14k gold sets from Macy’s or maybe a Ben Franklin (100 US dollars) as their complete mahr. Here is where I will caveat that this post is about me, me, me- another reflection for the #motherhoodproject, so while he is entangled in my mothering mess- this is not meant to be a reflection on my husband.

I was one of those converts. I got a Gucci watch and a 15-speed bicycle for my mahr. My teen now rides that bike and my tween is coveting the watch. Back then, I (haughtily) didn’t even wear gold, so silver didn’t make much sense for a wedding gift anyway, but then a strange thing happened on the way from the marriage negotiations to the onset of motherhood less than a year later- NO jewelry was bought by or for me. None. This is especially odd considering I worked in a boutique that sold lovely handmade/designer jewelry. And I did use to wear jewelry all the time. I’m sure I had no less than four earrings in my head when I met my husband. So what happened?

I don’t know. I can’t go back and ask my newlywed self, though I suspect she expected her new husband to buy her shiny things (and he likely assumed she would get her own since she was so picky and did work in that boutique). And then while she had picked up some new, more feminine clothes, after being married, she also almost immediately began buying maternity clothes and then ridiculously adorable things for her first born. Of course not only did my mommy-martyr gene activate during pregnancy, but honestly, mobile babies and delicate jewelry are a bad mix. I have had earrings snatched from my lobes and necklaces ripped off my neck by the teeniest of hands. And I couldn’t even find a groove to regularly wear bracelets: get dressed, put on bracelet, take off bracelet to make wudu for thuhr, get distracted by toddler attempting to climb on toilet or crying at the bathroom door and forget bracelet…  I hear this giving up adornment is a common mommy problem.

But then again, I know other Muslimah moms (not converts) who I visited after they gave birth and several where decked out in sparkly and shimmer- some newly gifted to them for having said baby. Again, I can imagine my husband offering me a bit of jewelry after one, two or three births, but I can also see myself waving off the suggestion, “No, no. The baby needs a dresser. And a carseat. And…” Or a jogging stroller, which I have had a few worth the cost of some decent jewelry and would have preferred anyway to something sitting untouched in my non-existent jewelry box.

And then, finally, I recall an offer! I stopped working when my third child was barely a toddler and my husband took up extra work selling Indian-style silver jewelry at a weekend summer market. He was going to get me a little something, he said. I was long overdue, and this was just my kind of thing, so I eagerly waited. And waited. And then I got tired of waiting and decided to get myself something, like I used to do.

Somehow, while searching through Ebay, I found myself staggering the isles of “loose beads” and instantly in LOVE with a strand of faceted Chalcedony briolettes in a daydreamy shade of fairest sky blue. Not only had I not made any jewelry in several years, I also had no idea what one did with a briolette and I didn’t even like blue. Still, 3-5 days later I sent a child out to my roadside mailbox to retrieve my new, not-quite jewelry.

Then the weirdness got weirder. By the end of the summer I had set up a little studio for myself, mastered basic wire-wrapping techniques (I had made jewelry when I was younger), and read through dozens and dozens of resources about how to sell on Ebay- and I was selling- but still, I had zero new jewelry! Of course the husband didn’t bother to bring anything home after I filled the house with strands and strands of precious and semi-precious gemstones, and I was making fabulous one-of-a-kind things, but I didn’t keep any for me. Nothing!

This I blame on some kind of warped sense of humbled aesthesis mis-based in Islam. Have you heard the one about the ungrateful women who were shamed and tore their jewelry from their bodies, throwing it all into a collection for charity? Even with all the contradictory advices to beautify, beautify, beautify one’s self for one’s husband, I just could not bring myself to be one of those greedy, wasteful women who lavishes upon herself.

When I put my Ebay shop on vacation mode so that I could pack up my beads and relocate to Morocco, finally I allowed myself to keep a few things from my stock. Just a few, and still I rarely wore them since I have had a sparkle-snatching infant or toddler in my position for the last 15.5 years.  I do find it… interesting that while I hadn’t been acquiring and wearing much adornment over the years I still found a way to be close to all the pretty, pretty things. And did, in some sense, manage to build up a wealth worth of gold and silver, but on a very practical level- something I blame on my culture of ingenuity and productiveness.

Recently while preparing to reopen my shop, which I had moved to Etsy soon after our move to Morocco, but then took another vacation after the birth of baby #6… I came across some large, angular silver pieces in my stock that I realized I had really been hoarding, why else hadn’t I used them in the nearly ten years that I have had them? Because I wanted them! So I made myself a not-so-little something. And I wore it! Sometimes it ends up in my pocket after wudu sessions, but this latest toddler is a master pick-pocket and she often pulls it back out for me.

While I post pics of works-in-progess and drool-inducing beads on my facebook page, I have heard from a few moms who similarly eschewed the sparkle, perhaps for practical reasons, perhaps as another inherent aspect of mommy-martyrdom. All are converts. So I’m curious Mamas, how is does your jewelry collection grow? Or does it not?

Please follow byBrookoli on facebook for updates on my pretty, pretty handmade things. And never, ever deny yourself 😉